UDJA | DJA and attorney's fees | UDJA | declaratory relief | Law-UDJA-SJ-standard-of-review-on-appeal | DJA |
attorney's fees under the UDJA | declaratory relief
Pursuant to Civil Practice & Remedies Code section 37.009, the trial court may award costs and reasonable and
necessary attorney's fees as are equitable and just. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 37.009 (Vernon 2008).
We review the trial court's award of attorney's fees under an abuse of discretion standard, subject to the
requirement that fees awarded must be reasonable and necessary, which are matters of fact, and to the
additional requirements that fees be equitable and just, which are matters of law. Everest Exploration, Inc. v. URI,
Inc., 131 S.W.3d 138, 144 (Tex. App.--San Antonio 2004, no pet.). The trial court has broad discretion to
determine whether to grant costs and attorney's fees under the DJA, and we will not reverse that judgment on
appeal absent a clear showing of abuse. Oake v. Collin County, 692 S.W.2d 454, 455 (Tex. 1985). We view the
evidence in the light most favorable to the trial court's ruling. Id. Hourani v. Katzen (Tex.App.- Houston [1st Dist.]
Nov. 25, 2009)(Higley)(suit for declaratory relief, dispute over restrictive covenants in a residential subdivision,
defense of waiver, estoppel, UDJA attorney's fees, appointment of master in chancery)
Section 37.009 of the UDJA provides, “In any proceeding under this chapter, the court may award costs and
reasonable and necessary attorney’s fees as are equitable and just.” TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE ANN. §
37.009 (Vernon 2008). However, a party cannot use the UDJA to obtain an otherwise impermissible attorney’s
fee. RIHR, 308 S.W.3d at 454. “It is an abuse of discretion to award attorney’s fees under the Uniform
Declaratory Judgment Act when the statute is relied upon solely as a vehicle to recover attorney’s fees.” Id.
(citing Tex. State Bd. of Plumbing Exam’rs v. Assoc. Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors of Tex., Inc., 31 S.W.
3d 750, 753 (Tex. App.—Austin 2000, pet. dism’d)); see also City of Houston v. Texan Land & Cattle Co., 138 S.
W.3d 382, 392 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2004, no pet.) (holding that party may not use declaratory
judgment action to seek same relief afforded under another of its causes of action to obtain otherwise
impermissible attorney’s fees).
Attorney’s Fees under the Declaratory Judgments Act (DJA)
The Declaratory Judgments Act allows a trial court to award reasonable and necessary attorney’s fees that are
equitable and just. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 37.009 (Vernon 1997). The Act “entrusts attorney fee
awards to the trial court’s sound discretion, subject to the requirements that any fees awarded be reasonable
and necessary, which are matters of fact, and to the additional requirements that fees be equitable and just,
which are matters of law.” Bocquet v. Herring, 972 S.W.2d 19, 21 (Tex. 1998). That award of attorney’s fees is
not limited to a prevailing party, but may be given to the non-prevailing party. Indian Beach, 222 S.W.2d at 706.
A trial court may, in its discretion, award "reasonable and necessary attorney's fees as are equitable and just" to
either the prevailing or the nonprevailing party in a declaratory judgment action. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code
Ann. § 37.009 (Vernon 2008); see also Barshop v. Medina County Underground Water Conservation Dist., 925
S.W.2d 618, 637-38 (Tex. 1996). The requirements that fees be reasonable and necessary are matters of fact,
while the requirements that fees be equitable and just are matters of law. Bouquet v. Herring, 972 S.W.2d 19, 21
(Tex. 1998). "Therefore, in reviewing an attorney fee award under the Act, the court of appeals must determine
whether the trial court abused its discretion by awarding fees when there was insufficient evidence that the fees
were reasonable and necessary, or when the award was inequitable or unjust." Id.
Crown Asset Management LLC v. Short (Tex.App.- Houston [1st Dist.] Apr. 16, 2009)(Hanks)
(MV note suit fails on summary judgment, inadequate documentation attached, declaratory judgment on car
ownership reversed, UDJA fees reversed, no judicial admission as to MV title)
AFFIRM TRIAL COURT JUDGMENT IN PART, REVERSE TC JUDGMENT IN PART, AND RENDER JUDGMENT:
Opinion by Justice Hanks
Before Chief Justice Radack, Justices Alcala and Hanks
Crown Asset Management, LLC v. Christopher B. Short
Appeal from County Civil Court at Law No 1 of Harris County
Trial Court Judge: Hon. R. Jack Cagle
In the instant case, the trial court's award of attorney's fees to Short for his declaratory judgment action was
inequitable and unjust because, as noted above, Short produced no evidence to support his claim for
declaratory judgment. The only evidence adduced by Short at the trial on his declaratory judgment action related
to the reasonableness and necessity of his attorney's fees. We sustain Crown's second point of error, reverse
the declaratory judgment in favor of Short, and vacate the trial court's award of attorney's fees to Short.
Beard v. Endeavor Natural Gas, LP (Tex.App.- Houston [1st Dist.] Dec. 19, 2008)(Bland)
(venue, oil and gas law, royalties, declaratory judgment, attorney's fees)
AFFIRM TC JUDGMENT: Opinion by Justice Bland
Before Justices Jennings, Hanks and Bland)
01-08-00180-CV Joseph Mitchell Beard v. Endeavor Natural Gas, L.P., and Tepee Petroleum Company
Appeal from 113th District Court of Harris County
Trial Court Judge: Hon. Patricia Hancock
We review an award of attorney’s fees for an abuse of discretion. Id. We presume that the trial court acted
within the bounds of discretion unless the record shows the contrary. Hardy v. Mann Frankfort Stein & Lipp
Advisors, Inc., 263 S.W.3d 232, 254 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2007, pet. granted). Here, the trial court did
not reveal the basis for the denial of attorney’s fees, and thus we may uphold its ruling on any basis supported
by the evidence. Id. Neither Beard nor Endeavor nor Tepee points to any evidence in the record that shows
that the trial court abused its discretion in denying their requests for attorney’s fees. Endeavor relies on
Knighton v. International Business Machines Corp., 856 S.W.2d 206, 210 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 1993,
writ denied), to contend that the trial court’s refusal to award fees to it is an abuse of discretion. But in that case,
our court affirmed the trial court’s decision as to competing fee requests— including the denial of fees to both
parties who sought interplead funds. Id. Our court observed, “It is clear from the record that the trial court
recognized that [the parties] had legitimate rights to pursue and, therefore, each should bear its own attorney's
fees.” Id. at 410–11. Similarly, here, neither party points to record evidence that shows the trial court decision is
an abuse of discretion. Rather, Beard did not prevail, and Endeavor instituted this suit presumably because it
intended to pursue a legitimate declaration of its rights, but a trial court in its discretion may deny fees to the
prevailing party. Bocquet, 972 S.W.2d at 21. We therefore affirm the trial court’s denial of attorney’s fees. See
ANR Prod. Co. v. Am. Guar. & Liab. Ins. Co., 981 S.W.2d 889, 892 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 1998, no
pet.); Robinson v. Budget Rent-A-Car Sys., Inc., 51 S.W.3d 425, 433 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2001, pet.
denied) (“The fact that both parties had legitimate positions, arguments and rights to pursue, amongst other
things, contributed to the determination that the court declined to award attorney’s fees.”).
Finally, appellants argue the UDJA waives governmental immunity for an award of attorneys' fees. We agree.
See Tex. Educ. Agency v. Leeper, 893 S.W.2d 432, 446 (Tex. 1994) (concluding that, by authorizing declaratory
judgment actions to construe legislative enactments of governmental entities and authorizing awards of attorney
fees, UDJA necessarily waives governmental immunity for such awards). That the UDJA waives immunity for
attorneys' fees awards, however, does not mean it waives immunity for damages awards.
Tara Partners, Ltd. v. City of South Houston (Tex.App.- Houston [14th Dist.] Jan. 13, 2009)(Seymore)
(city governmental immunity)
AFFIRMED IN PART; REVERSED & REMANDED IN PART: Opinion by Justice Seymore
Before Justices Frost, Seymore and Guzman
14-07-00330-CV Tara Partners, Ltd., Granada Terrace, Ltd., David R. Wise, 1606 Savannah LLC, Windsor
Gardens Ltd., and Freeport Villa Brazos Apartments, Ltd. v. City of South Houston
Appeal from 157th District Court of Harris County
Trial Court Judge: Randy Wilson
Concurring Opinion by Justice Frost
Potter may not recover attorney’s fees and costs for the quantum meruit claim on which he did not prevail or
recover damages. See Green Int’l, Inc. v. Solis, 951 S.W.2d 384, 390 (Tex. 1997). Additionally, any “award [of]
costs and reasonable and necessary attorney’s fees as are equitable and just” in a declaratory judgment action
is within the discretion of the trial court. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 37.009 (Vernon 2008).
The trial court presumably did not award attorney’s fees or costs to Potter because it denied his motion for
summary judgment on his declaratory judgment claim. Because we have reversed the trial court’s denial of Potter’
s summary judgment, because we have declared in his favor the issues before the trial court for declaratory
judgment, and because any award for costs and reasonable and necessary attorney’s fees “as are equitable
and just” in a declaratory judgment action is discretionary, we conclude that cause should be remand to the trial
court for it to consider the issue of Potter’s attorney’s fees and costs on his declaratory judgment. Potter v. Clear
Channel Outdoor, Inc. (Tex.App.- Houston [1st Dist.] Jul. 2, 2009)(Taft)
(billboard lease, billboard lease, construction of lease, contract interpretation, quantum meruit, declaratory
judgment, UDJA, attorney's fees)
AFFIRM TRIAL COURT JUDGMENT IN PART, REVERSE TRIAL COURT JUDGMENT IN PART, AND
REMAND CASE TO TRIAL COURT FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS: Opinion by Justice Taft
Before Chief Justice Radack, Justices Taft and Sharp
01-07-00578-CV Larry E. Potter v. Clear Channel Outdoor, Inc.
Appeal from 333rd District Court of Harris County
Trial Court Judge: Hon. Joseph Halbach
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